Some forms of intellectual property have perpetual protection under the law. A trademark may last as long as the owner uses it in the market and defends the mark from infringement. However, patents have a fixed time period before the law they expire.
The idea behind a limited time period for patents is to allow other people to use the patented information to build new technology at some point in the future. Not all patents have the same period of protection, though.
Terms for different patents
The U.S. International Trade Administration explains that a U.S. utility patent will generally have a protection period of 20 years following the filing of the application. The same period applies to plant patents.
However, the term for a design patent filed after May 13, 2015, is different. These patents have just a 15 year period of protection. If someone has filed a design patent before this date, it has a term of 14 years.
Patents may expire sooner
It is up to patent holders to maintain their patent through maintenance fees. In the event a patent holder neglects to keep up a patent, the patent may expire sooner than its full term. If the patent holder had unintentionally neglected to pay a maintenance fee, the holder may seek to reinstate an expired patent.
The USPTO explains that to renew a patent, a recognized party must submit a petition. The petition must include the required maintenance fee and petition fee along with a statement stating there was no intention to delay the maintenance fee. If the filing occurs more than two years following the expiration, the USPTO will also require information establishing that the delay was not intentional.
Plan on a fixed patent period
Some patent holders may have no problem letting a patent expire. The decision to keep a patent active is up to the person who owns the patent. Nonetheless, anyone who wishes to keep a patent going for a full term should plan accordingly.